YARMOUTH—Throughout the preseason, there were rumblings that the Falmouth girls’ lacrosse team was primed to make the jump and become a top contender this spring.
Thursday evening, in the season opener at defending Class B champion Yarmouth, the Yachtsmen lived up to the hype.
Falmouth, which lost by eight goals at the Clippers a year ago, never trailed and took the lead for good less than four minutes in when sophomore Sydney Bell scored one of her five goals.
The Yachtsmen enjoyed leads of 4-1, 5-2 and 6-3 in the first half and took a 6-4 advantage to halftime, but Yarmouth pulled within 7-6 when junior Lilly Watson scored consecutive goals early in the second half.
But with the game hanging in the balance, Falmouth rose to the occasion.
Bell twice set up senior Lizzie Goodrich for goals in a 63-second span to turn momentum back to the Yachtsmen. Bell, junior London Bernier and sophomore Olivia Stucker then scored to break it open and Falmouth went on to an impressive 14-9 victory.
Bell had five goals and three assists and senior Leigh Bernardy had three goals and more importantly, dominated in the draw circle as the Yachtsmen made an early statement.
“It’s definitely a steppingstone,” said Falmouth second-year coach Kait Johnson. “The girls have worked really hard in the offseason and preseason. We only plan to get better. I couldn’t be more proud of how we played today. We got the first goal and never looked back. We never faltered. It says a lot about our team.”
While Yarmouth enters the season on a high note as the defending Class B champion, Falmouth also likes its chances.
Last year, the Yachtsmen went 4-9, losing, 13-6, to Cape Elizabeth in the Western A quarterfinals. That record was misleading, however, as Falmouth won at Waynflete and Thornton Academy and was very competitive with just about everybody. This spring, the Yachtsmen believe they can make a run at the top.
The Clippers had bookend losses last regular season, but by the end of the year, they had no peer, as a 13-10 victory over Cape Elizabeth gave them their first Class B title since 2011. While Yarmouth was hurt by the graduation of offensive standout Grace O’Donnell (now playing at Trinity College) and the departure of defensive stalwarts Abby Belisle-Haley and Julia Primeau (who is playing at Dickinson College), it returns a lot of firepower and is viewed as the Eastern B favorite again.
Last season, the host Clippers handled the Yachtsmen, 17-9, in the teams’ lone encounter, which snapped a four-game Falmouth streak in the series. Since 2002, Yarmouth held an 11-4 advantage.
Thursday, the Clippers were hoping to end a three-year slide in regular season openers, but the Yachtsmen were the stronger team virtually throughout.
Just 2 minutes, 52 seconds in, Bell scored the season’s first goal, when she circled around the goal, took a feed from Bernier and beat Clippers sophomore goalie Mary Kate Gunville.
The hosts drew even with 21:49 to play in the half, when senior Shannon Fallon, who scored countless clutch goals last season, struck unassisted, beating Yachtsmen junior goalie Sarah Hutcheon with a low shot, but 43 seconds later, Bell scored to put Falmouth on top for good, 2-1.
With 18:27 left in the half, Bernardy scored her first goal. She added another 56 seconds later for a 4-1 edge.
After Watson scored her first goal, unassisted, with 12:43 remaining in the half, sophomore Devin Sarazin answered with an unassisted tally to put the Yachtsmen ahead, 5-2.
Senior Emma Torres got a goal for the Clippers, but Bernardy (from Bell) countered to push the lead back to three. In the final minute, Fallon scored unassisted to seemingly give Yarmouth some momentum, cutting Falmouth’s lead to 6-4.
As was the case in the first half, the Yachtsmen started fast in the second, as Bell struck again, but Watson answered with two quick goals (the first from Fallon and the second unassisted), making the score 7-6 with 20:46 still to play.
But just when it appeared the Clippers Express was roaring to life, Bernardy won yet another draw, Falmouth settled its offense and Bell waited until Goodrich broke open before feeding her for an 8-6 advantage with 19:04 left.
Sixty-three seconds later, the tandem hooked up again for a three-goal lead.
“That was really important because they’re obviously a really strong team and we had to keep the lead,” Bell said.
“Those were huge goals,” Johnson said. “That’s a senior captain, a veteran player stepping up. We’ve stressed patience and waiting for the pass. Lizzie stepped up when we needed her most.”
The next goal was courtesy Bell’s athleticism, as she scored unassisted. Bernier then scored an unassisted goal and with 7:14 to play, Stucker finished a free position to make it 12-6.
With 6:02 remaining, sophomore Cory Langenbach finished a feed from classmate Katie Waeldner to snap a 14:44 drought, but the Yachtsmen answered as Goodrich set up senior Elle Fitzgerald.
With 3:37 left, Watson scored unassisted and 51 seconds later, Fallon took a pass from senior Caitlin Teare and scored to make it 13-9, but Bernardy won possession on the ensuing draw and with 49.5 seconds to go, Bell scored on a free position into an open net and Falmouth had itself a confidence-inspiring 14-9 victory.
“It’s an awesome start,” Bernardy said. “I’m so happy. We’re really proud of ourselves. This sets the tone for our entire season. We had to come out and win this game and from here on, it can only get better. This gives us hope for the rest of the season.”
“We’re not the same team as last year,” Bell said. “Our team really clicks. We really didn’t know what to expect, but we hoped to come out and prove that we’re here to win.”
“Our strongest point right now is that we are a team,” Johnson added. “We were able to pull away because of our leadership and our team unity. We have a lot of young players, but our unity is the reason we’re so good. We’ve stressed that since the end of last season. These girls truly love each other.”
Bell had five goals and three assists.
“I couldn’t do anything without my teammates,” Bell said. “We have an awesome connection. We’ve done so much bonding on and off the field. We’re really supportive of each other and it’s paid off.”
“Sydney is a workhorse,” said Johnson. “She wasn’t shooting well in the first half. It’s a testament to her that she kept going. She worked just as hard setting other people up. She’s getting better and better.”
Bernardy scored three times, Goodrich had two goals (to go with an assist) and Bernier (one assist), Fitzgerald, Sarazin and Stucker each tickled the twine once.
Bernardy won almost every draw she took.
“I’m not trying to get it to anyone in particular,” said Bernardy. “I just try to get it up in the air because of my height and get it from there.”
For Yarmouth, Watson had a promising effort with four goals. Fallon added three, while Langenbach and Torres each scored once. Fallon, Teare and Waeldner had one assist apiece.
“I’d like to win, but it’s the first game of the season,” said Clippers coach Dorothy Holt. “Credit to Falmouth. They were strong and attacked us well. We had time to come back, but we turned the ball over. It’s a new season. We’ll have highs and lows. We have a target on our backs. We have youngsters in key roles. My upperclassmen are going into new positions. When you lose key players, it takes time. I’m so proud of them for what they did.”
Both teams are bound for Florida over April vacation week, where they’ll spend further time working on basics, playing games and enjoying warm weather.
Yarmouth’s next countable game is April 30, at York. By then, expect a much more cohesive effort from the Clippers.
“We’ll be a different team next time,” Holt said. “We’ll play a game down there and we’ll work on conditioning and spend some time together. The pieces are there.”
Falmouth returns to action April 29 when Fryeburg Academy pays a visit. The Yachtsmen are enthused by their start, but know they can still improve. They don’t want to be the best team to start the season. They want to be the best come June.
“This game shows us what we need to focus more on and I think Florida will help us come back even better,” said Bernardy.
“We’re definitely going to work on game situations,” Johnson said. “We have a scrimmage down there against a Florida team, which I’m excited about. We’ll be doing a lot of fitness and growing our bond.”
@ Falmouth 16 Yarmouth 7
Falmouth 11 @ Yarmouth 8
Yarmouth 14 @ Falmouth 9
Yarmouth 12 @ Falmouth 1
Yarmouth 11 @ Falmouth 2
@ Yarmouth 9 Falmouth 2
@ Yarmouth 13 Falmouth 2
@ Yarmouth 16 Falmouth 5
@ Yarmouth 14 Falmouth 1
F- 6 8- 14
Y- 4 5- 9
22:08 F Bell (Bernier)
21:49 Y Fallon (unassisted)
21:06 F Bell (unassisted)
18:27 F Bernardy (unassisted)
17:31 F Bernardy (unassisted)
12:43 Y Watson (unassisted)
11:52 F Sarazin (unassisted)
10:24 Y Torres (unassisted)
6:14 F Bernardy (Bell)
:41 Y Fallon (unassisted)
22:22 F Bell (unassisted)
21:33 Y Watson (Fallon)
20:46 Y Watson (unassisted)
19:04 F Goodrich (Bell)
18:01 F Goodrich (Bell)
17:28 F Bell (unassisted)
13:01 F Bernier (unassisted)
7:14 F Stucker (free position)
6:02 Y Langenbach (Waeldner)
5:00 F Fitzgerald (Goodrich)
3:37 Y Watson (unassisted)
2:46 Y Fallon (Teare)
49.5 F Bell (free position)
F- Bell 5, Bernardy 3, Goodrich 2, Bernier, Fitzgerald, Sarazin, Stucker 1
Y- Watson 4, Fallon 3, Langenbach, Torres 1
F- Bell 3, Bernier, Goodrich 1
Y- Fallon, Teare, Waeldner 1